Christian Carnival CCXIX

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Chasing the Wind is honored to host the 219th edition of the Christian Carnival II, the blogosphere’s best Christian writing. My comments on the post in italics after each entry, but I left the author’s original thoughts when he or she provided them. I included almost all posts I received; I excluded two from the same blog that were more about “the power of positive thinking” that didn’t seem to mention Christianity, and a similar post about raising children from a site mostly dedicated to gardening. Oh, and I excluded an advertisement blog for Branson Missouri. If I excluded your post and you don’t agree, email me and let me know why I erred and I’ll correct it.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of christian carnival ii using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Christian Behavior in God's Church

I’ve discovered how slow to understand I must be. We’ve been remarking that when Chris or Fred teach, they get large amounts of text to cover. Chris had the entire Beatitudes plus half of the New Testament to teach in 30 minutes. Fred gets, like, the entire Old Testament when he teaches. And when I teach, Got assigns me an entire sentence. Today’s no exception; we’re going to study Matthew 18 today.

At this point in the ministry of Jesus, the time of His death and resurrection was approaching rapidly, and Jesus’ teaching begins to focus on preparing His disciples to carry on after His crucifixion. Last week, Fred showed us how Jesus taught about the qualities of the church and how we worship and serve Him in unity and obedience; this week, Jesus teaches about interpersonal relationships and how we are to treat one another within the church.

I. Christian Humility (v. 1-9)

Who is the greatest person in America? George Bush? Hillary Clinton? And what makes a person great in America?

The qualities that make a person great in our society are different than the qualities that make a person great in the eyes of the Lord. In fact, sometimes the qualities are the exact opposite. “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

I read a story about Billy Graham, a man who has consistently demonstrated the light of Christ publicly without wavering. In his early ministry years, he was scheduled to preach in a small town and needed to mail a letter. He asked a young boy where the local post office was. The boy told him, Billy Graham thanked him, and then told the boy, “If you come to the Baptist Church this evening, you can hear me preach about how to get to heaven.” The boy answered, “I don’t think I’ll come. You don’t even know how to get to the post office.”

Let’s look at Matthew 18:1-4

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

What quality makes a person, not just great, but the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Humility. Probably the biggest sin in the bible is pride, because so many sins originate in pride. Pride tells us how important we are, how infallible we are. Pride tells us that we don’t need God.

Humility is the opposite of pride. Humility tells us that we need God. Humility tells us that everything we are, everything we have, and everything we are ever going to be comes from God. Humility helps us recognize that we have not been placed on this earth so that others may serve us, but for us to serve others.

Matthew 18:7 tells us that our world is a sinful place, full of pride and arrogance and independence from God. There’s no avoiding it; you don’t fill a glass full of mud and expect to drink fine champagne out of it. You don’t fill a world with sinful people and expect paradise on earth. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” As Christians, as Jesus’ church on earth, we should be diligent about making sure we are not the cause of a brother’s sin. Jesus goes so far as to say that if your foot causes sin, cut it off and throw it away.

Why does this warning come right after Jesus’ admonition to be humble? What does “humility like a child” have to do with worldly sin?

I think it’s related to the pride that is in all of us. None of us are too good to sin. Our human nature leads us to sin constantly. Disobedience to what we know God wants us to do. Gossip. Lust. The only one strong enough to resist the constant temptation in our world is the Holy Spirit that lives in us, and when we lean on the power of God, we can resist all temptation. When we try to do it on our own, we will most certainly fall. Humility helps us recognize the power of the Lord working within us, and not our own work.

II. Christian Attention (v. 10-14)

Humility also helps us see the importance of others. When we are within the church, we are spiritually strengthened. We can encourage and we can be encouraged. But what about those outside of the church? What about those inside the church but spiritually weak?

The human tendency is to see ourselves better than others, to pump ourselves up. Our church is better than that church, our family is better than that family, our country is better than that country. As a follower of Jesus practicing humility, we are instructed to continue to lift others up. See how in verse 10 Jesus says, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Since this phrase “little ones” comes so soon after the instruction about being like a child, “little ones” could mean a child, but it can also mean weak or marginal people. Every person in the Christian community is considered important to Jesus, and those who come to faith have a guardian angel that always sees the face of God. Hebrews 1:14 describes these angels as “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” If these “little ones” are considered so important to God that they have their own angel, shouldn’t they also be important to us? We should take special care to look out for those who need looking out for most. For verse 11 says, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

[As an aside, sometimes when I’m studying, I come across “rabbit trails;” interesting tidbits of information that have little or no bearing on the lesson that the Holy Spirit is directing. Verse 11 was a particularly enticing rabbit trail; I discovered that the NIV doesn’t have verse 11 in it. We can talk about it at lunch, but after following this rabbit trail for too much time, I’ve decided that verse 11 should be in there.]

Jesus continues with a mini-parable about lost sheep in verse 12-14 –

Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers.

As we grow in Christ, we should take care that we don’t grow in pride. We grow in humility; we grow in service and caring, and all the more sensitive to reaching out to those who need spiritual nourishment.

III. Christian Reconciliation (v. 15-20)

Jesus next gives His church instruction on how to resolve differences among believers. In verse 15-17 –

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Let’s make sure we know who Jesus is talking about. In the first sentence it begins, “if your brother sins against you,” this is specifically to Christians within the church, when Christians are in conflict with one another. Of course Christians are in conflict with one another. It seems that every time we forget who’s Lord of our lives, we’re in conflict. The measure of our spiritual maturity is not whether we’re ever in conflict, but whether we use the conflict to grow spiritually.

This is so important – we have conflicts within the church, conflicts sometimes right here in this class. And perhaps, just perhaps, once or twice, we’ve had a conflict with our spouse. Unresolved conflicts among Christians destroy our unity, but learning how to resolve conflicts in a Christian way can bring us closer together. This is so important; a few chapters back in Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says,

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Leave your gift; first go and be reconciled. When you are at odds with another believer, your gift practically worthess. God doesn’t want your stuff; He created it, after all. He wants you to be in unity with His church. The unity in the church is what makes the church effective; the unity in the church is what motivates God to be responsive to our prayers.

Think about that; God is responsive when we are obedient and in unity with one another. Do you ever feel your prayers are unanswered? Is there unresolved conflict between me and my spouse? Is there unresolved conflict between me and somebody in this class? These questions are related.

A. Right Attitude

First, be honest with yourself about your role in the conflict. With humility, ask God to show you how you have contributed. Remember, this is conflict with another Christian. I can almost guarantee you that when I am in conflict with another Christian, when I am in conflict with my spouse, there is some measure of disobedience in me. As Christians, we certainly don’t argue because we think we’re wrong. No, I argue because I think I’m right, and my Christian brother argues because he thinks he’s right. If I can’t see my own contribution to this conflict, then I am blinded by my own pride. It’s only with humility that enables me to see my own disobedience. If you have unanswered prayers, ask God to show you how you have been disobedient to Him. Then, leave your gift at the altar and go be reconciled with your spouse or your brother or sister.

B. Right Approach

How do we reconcile? First, we go tell everybody else about the conflict. I mean everybody. “You know what so-and-so did to me? Well, let me tell you. She said this and she said that and I don’t know why God doesn’t send some sort of lightning strike to turn her into charcoal.” We should gossip to as many people as you can.

Or at least, that’s what we often end up doing. Jesus gives us different instructions, and they begin with a private conversation. Let your brother or sister know, with humility, what they’ve said or done that’s hurt you. Do it soon so that the problem doesn’t fester and make you bitter; remember, your prayers are hindered as long as the conflict remains. And do it face-to-face; it says go and *show* him. Don’t send a text message, don’t send an email, and don’t leave a voice mail.

This is the first step toward unity in our marriages and unity in our church, and we often miss this first step. It’s hard, but mostly because our own pride tells us that we’re right, they’re wrong, before we ever have a conversation with them. Humility and being honest with ourselves about our own selfish motives are required before we can resolve conflict with our brother.

Because we rarely complete this private meeting, we almost never get to step two when we bring a third party. Our tendency is to bring along somebody to gang up on them, but Jesus wants us to bring a neutral party as a witness. Step three is to bring the issue to the church, a pastor. Our effectiveness as a Christian, as a married couple, and as a church depends on the unity we create by humbly resolving the differences between us.

IV. Christian Forgiveness (v. 21-35)

And finally, Jesus instructs His church on Christian forgiveness. In verse 21-22 –

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Most manuscripts say seventy times seven; I’ve worked out the math, and that’s 490 times. I recommend getting a PDA so you can keep track of the number of times you’ve forgiven somebody, so that when you get to the 491st time, you know you don’t have to forgive them anymore. If you don’t have a PDA, try keeping a piece of paper in your pocket or purse with their name and a running tally of the number of times you’ve been forced to forgive them. I know Fred keeps such a list, and so far I’m only up to 112 things he has forgiven me for. I’m hoping his version of the bible says 490 instead of 77.

Why such a big number? Of course, we’re not supposed to keep track of our brother’s sins against us. We’re supposed to forgive every time; we’re supposed to constantly forgive. We’re a lot like Peter in this scripture; if we forgive our brother, if we forgive our spouse, we think we’ve done something magnificent. But we feel like there ought to be a limit, at some point, we don’t have to forgive anymore. I don’t deserve this, I can’t take that, I’m through with this. The Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving 3 times was sufficient. Peter felt that by the time he got to 7, he should win some sort of medal. Wouldn’t you? We think we’re showing great faith and love by forgiving 7 times, but Jesus calls us beyond faith and love; he calls us to humility and service by forgiving seventy times seven. The definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:5 says love keeps no record of wrongs. No record at all.

This is not blind or shallow or careless forgiveness. Philippians 1:9-10 tells us that abounding love also increases our depth of insight and our discernment, so there’s no reason we have to become a doormat. If Chris gives me $100 to go buy pizza for the class, and I decide to buy lottery tickets instead, should Chris forgive me? Of course he should. Should he trust me with $100 again? I sure hope so, cuz I was *this* closing to winning it big last time.

The parable told by Jesus in Matthew 18:23-35 illustrates the importance of forgiveness between brothers and sisters.

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

The servant goes through 3 stages of forgiveness. In verses 23-27, the man is a debtor. He owes a lot of money, far more than he can ever pay back. But he thinks somehow that he can pay it all back, given enough time. There is a lack of repentance brought on by pride here; does the man say he’s sorry and confess and repent? No, he’s ashamed he’s caught. In 2 Corinthians 7:10 it says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Worldly sorrow is just being sorry you got caught.

This servant has no hope of paying off his debt, even if his pride tells him he can. His case is hopeless. The only thing that keeps him out of prison is the grace from the king.

In the second stage of forgiveness, the servant is also a creditor. When the servant thinks the king is out of sight, he comes across another servant that owes him pennies compared to the huge debt that the gracious king forgave. Instead of sharing with his friend the forgiveness that he has already received, the servant mistreats his friend. His friend’s words were almost identical – “I can pay it all back!” But instead of forgiveness, the servant mistreats his friend and demands the money is paid back. The servant was unwilling to be gracious even though he wanted others to be gracious to him.

The servant was absolutely with his legal right to demand payment, too. Nobody denies that he was owed the money. But even though he had a legal right, he didn’t have a moral right.

The last phase of forgiveness is really a stage of unforgiveness. He becomes a prisoner. Through the grace of the king, the servant had been released from prison. Through his own selfish unforgiveness, the servant puts himself back in prison. In essence, the king has given the servant a choice; he can live free through grace, or he can live imprisoned through the law. Through Christ Jesus, we are free. We were so far into debt, we didn’t even know how far in debt we are. We believed we could get into heaven just by paying the debt, by doing good works. But Christ freed us from our debts, and he wants us to experience not only being forgiven, but also forgiving others.

This parable was told to believers, to brothers and sisters in Christ. We have indeed received forgiveness from our Lord, but we often haven’t truly experienced forgiveness. We continue to live by justice, demanding what is ours. When we live this way, demanding justice from others, we are putting ourselves in prison, the prison of the unforgiving heart. We can be just like this servant, ready to receive the forgiveness of Christ, but stingy to share it. God forgives us frequently, readily, and endlessly.

It’s not enough for us to receive this forgiveness. To truly experience forgiveness, we must learn to grant forgiveness as easily as we received it. We have received so much that we don’t deserve, and all we had to do was say, “I accept.” To encourage the type of church of believers that Jesus wants us to be, let us practice forgiving others as our advocate as already shared with us, for it is with Christ Jesus that we have been set free from our prison. As it says in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

edit I am reminded that holding back forgiveness is like putting the one who wronged you in jail – except you have no key to the door. You must stand there and hold the jail cell door shut. While your adversary may be in jail, you are too; you cannot go anywhere if you’re holding the door.

As Christians in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order to build the church that He has called us to be, we must have a humble heart, recognizing the pride that keeps us from leaning on our Creator. We must watch for our spiritually weaker and younger brothers and sisters, making them feel welcome and loved so they do not drift away, for Jesus cares for each and every one of His sheep. We must recognize our own selfishness and disobedience and the conflicts that come between us, and lay our gifts at the altar and be reconciled with our spouses, our brothers, and our sisters. And we do this by forgiving them quickly, seventy times seven times, so that we do not become imprisoned by our own unforgiveness, just as we have been forgiven by our loving and gracious Lord Jesus Christ.

Dependence

Zechariah’s lampstandI’m going to be honest about my struggles this week to study for Zechariah books 4-6. Zechariah is full of symbolism and things difficult to explain and interpret. When I started studying it, I was lost. It was like trying to understand the book of Revelation using only a Julia Childs cookbook for interpretation. Things just didn’t make sense.

But I’m starting learn how God teaches me; the lesson I study is the same lesson God is teaching me. I pray and hope that His Word today finds you receptive to the message He would have us learn.

Fortunately an angel of interpretation visited Zechariah to help us understand what was going on. I’m glad the angel was there, otherwise the symbology of colored horses and baskets of women and flying scrolls would be completely lost on me.

In Zechariah 1-3 last week, Zechariah began seeing a series of eight night visions. These visions of prophecy revealed God’s plans and purposes to His people.

The first vision, Zechariah saw horsemen patrolling the earth. The earth was at peace, which sounds like good news, but it’s not. It meant Persia’s rule of Judah, over God’s people, was strong and secure. The second vision of four horns represented the heathen powers who had scattered God’s people, and then four craftsmen of God that defeated the heathen powers.

The third vision was a surveyor who drew new boundary lines around Jerusalem, with God Himself becoming a wall of fire of protection around it. Then a fourth vision that Joshua would take off unclean clothes and dress is splendid robes so that Joshua would be usable and acceptable in God’s sight. A messianic prophecy that God would send His son as the Branch who would take away the sins of the world so that we may all live in peace under the authority of Jesus Christ.

So far, so good. Four visions have so far come to Zechariah in chapter 1-3, and now Zechariah is plum tuckered out. We’re going to study the next 4 visions, starting with vision number 5, visions that include lampstands, olive trees, a flying scroll, a basket with a woman in it, and chariots pulled by colored horses between bronze mountains, and then we’re going to figure out how to apply these colored horses and flying scrolls to our own lives. Turn to Zechariah 4.

Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?”

I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. 3 Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”

I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”

He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied.

You would think that after 4 visions from God and being offered interpretations by angels, Zechariah would be fully awake, paying attention, and writing things down, but he’s not. It says in Zechariah 4:1 that “the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep.” Zechariah’s mind was wandering, not paying attention, possible taking a little nap. How could Zechariah possibly be sleeping at a time like this?

Let me rephrase in New Testament terms – Jesus Christ died for our sins and the Holy Spirit lives within us, prompting us to do what is right and what is good, for the day of the Lord is approaching. How could we possibly be satisfying our own selfish desires when Jesus calls us to do so much more?

There, got your attention.

The angel of interpretation wakens Zechariah and says, “What do you see?” And Zechariah answers (Zechariah 4:2-3), “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” If we jump down to the second half of verse 10, the angel explains that the seven lights on top are the eyes of the Lord which range throughout the earth. Scholars have interpreted in several ways; one scholar compared it to the lampstands in Revelation 1 where the lampstand represents a church. That would imply that the lampstand here represents Jerusalem or the rebuilding of the temple. The vision goes on to explain in verse 11 and 12 that the two olive branches on each side of the lampstand continually pour out golden oil that keeps the light burning.

There’s a lot of symbolism here, but with the angel of interpretation here, we’re able to understand the meaning. The olive tree branches symbolize Joshua and Zerubbabel. Joshua was the high priest of Israel, Zerubbabel was the governor. Together, they are the priest and king of Israel. In verse 14, they are described as the “two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” The golden oil represents the Holy Spirit being poured out to light the lampstand. So let’s put this altogether to see what the vision means.

Joshua and Zerubbabel are to rebuild the temple. It’s a daunting task, it’s huge, it’s far to much to expect two men to do it. But through the Holy Spirit working in them, the temple, the lampstand, will be rebuilt. The temple will be visible to all the earth; through the rebuilt temple, God will shed his light on Israel and bring them out of their darkness, and God’s plans will be fulfilled.

Is everybody with me so far? The priest and king, through the Holy Spirit, rebuild the temple to shed light on God’s people. Good. Now, as we have been studying, God’s relationship with Israel is instructive to us; God is unchanging. How do we apply this to Christians today? Well, let’s see. There are 4 parts to this vision:

  1. The olive branches. In Zechariah’s vision, the angel explains that these are Joshua and Zerubbabel, the priest and king of Israel, anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth. Who would that be today? That’s right, the priest and king is the Messiah, Jesus, anointed to serve the Lord. But while we wait for the return of the Lord, who is the body of Jesus? Who are His hands and feet? That’s right, we are.
  2. The lampstand. In Zechariah’s vision, the lampstand represented the temple. Who is the temple of the Lord today? The church.
  3. The lights, the eyes of the Lord that bring light. As a church, we are the lampstand that shows the love of Christ to the world. God’s light is visible to the world when the world looks at us, His temple.
  4. The golden oil. In Zechariah’s vision, the Holy Spirit enabled Joshua and Zerubbabel to accomplish the Lord’s will. The Holy Spirit now works within all Christians to accomplish the Lord’s will.

What the vision is trying to tell Zechariah is instructions on how to do the Lord’s will. The exiles in Zechariah’s day had started to rebuild the temple, but then they gave up. It was too hard. For 15 years they had done no work on the temple. The people put their personal concerns first and allowed discouragement to take over. It’s too hard, it’s not important, and we have other things to do.

Today, we do the same thing. God speaks to us through His Word and through the Holy Spirit. But we don’t always want to obey. We don’t always want to listen. When we open our bibles and read, “Ye shall do this to glorify me,” and then we find excuses not to. Remember the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Jesus tells us that all of God’s commands can be summarized by loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And 1 Corinthians 13 are instructions to us, to tell us what love is and what love is not. But yet, we are easily angered, we are rude, we do seek our own pleasure at the expense of others. Why do we do this? It’s because we allow discouragement to take over and we place ourselves first, exactly like the exiles that had given up on rebuilding the temple.

How else are we disobedient to the Lord? Is He the Lord of your life? Is He the Lord of my life? If He is the Lord, we give our lives to Him and obey His commands. Or is He only Lord of part of our lives, and we offer excuses not to obey? The instructions on loving one another are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how to love those who hurt us are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how we treat our spouses are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how to honor our parents are clear, yet we don’t always do it. Why don’t we do it? It’s because it’s too hard for us.

Let’s admit it. It’s too hard for us. And that’s precisely the point, it is too hard for us. But it’s not too hard for God. In Zechariah 4:6-7, it says,

So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

“What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!'”

The vision given to Zechariah doesn’t show that Joshua and Zerubbabel should rebuild the temple by relying on their own strength. The lights of the lampstand are filled with the Holy Spirit. When we find something too difficult for us, the instructions are clear. We rely on the Holy Spirit and do what the Lord tells us to do. No excuses, no discouragement, no personal reasons why these instructions shouldn’t apply to us. We pray, we rely on the Spirit, we obey. Through our obedience and the Lord’s strength, His purposes will be accomplished. The Lord put the mountain in front of us, and He can make the ground level again. Not us.

When I was studying for this lesson, this is about the time that I realized what God was teaching me this week. All the symbolism in the book of Zechariah was too hard for me. I’m a black and white sort of guy. I’m a spreadsheet guy. I’m an engineer. I don’t understand it, and therefore I can’t teach it.

Which is precisely the point. It’s too hard for me and I was relying on my own knowledge and strength to understand it. I’m like Zechariah here. The angel asks, “What do you see, and what does it mean?” Zechariah’s answer is the same each time, “Uh… I dunno.” And the angel interprets the vision for him. If Zechariah leaned on his own understanding, he’d have no idea what the Lord was saying. And isn’t that what the Lord wants us to do, to lean on Him? Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” The Lord wills us to obey and to trust in Him, even when we don’t want to, even when we don’t understand why. If we just lean on Him and do what He asks of us, He will lead us.

We are fortunate the Lord is so patient. While we’re quick to point out the faults in others and say the Lord’s judgment will come upon them, we’re not so quick to point out our own sins and ask for the Lord’s judgment. “Lord God, I’m a sinner, please punish me. And hurry!” No, the Lord’s judgment is delayed because of His mercy. We have 3 more visions to go that illustrate God’s judgment on those who do not obey.

In Zechariah 5, Zechariah sees a flying scroll.

“This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. The LORD Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.'”

The flying scroll is thirty feet long by fifteen feet wide, which, interestingly, are the same dimensions as the holy place in the tabernacle, perhaps indicating God’s presence. The angel explains that this is a call by the Lord to righteousness. Every thief will be banished – those who take from others instead of giving of themselves. And everyone who swears falsely will be banished – those that claim to follow the Lord but are disobedient and rebellious, tarnishing the name of God. Possibly the text on the flying scroll contained the Ten Commandments, the law by which the Lord will judge His people. Paul tells us in Romans 3 that it is through the law that we become aware of our own sin. While the law is perfect, it is a curse to man for it shows us that we can never be righteous on our own.

The next vision is a woman in a basket. I’m so glad this angel of interpretation explains all these things so I don’t have to guess. Zecharaiah 5:5-11 –

Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what this is that is appearing.”

I asked, “What is it?”

He replied, “It is a measuring basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.”

Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! He said, “This is wickedness,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed the lead cover down over its mouth.

Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.

“Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me.

He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.”

One interpretation could be that women are evil and should be shipped off in a basket, but that’s precisely why we are not to lean on our own understanding. A woman is used in this imagery because the Hebrew word for evil is a feminine noun and the woman is used to show evil personified. It does not mean women are evil. For some reason, every biblical commentary I read on this passage wanted t make that point clear.

God is all powerful. God is demonstrating that He has power over evil. He measures the sins of the Israel, and takes the evils of materialism, greed, and dishonesty back to their starting place in Babylon. When God is ready, He will set the basket on its base and destroy it in the final judgment prophesied in Revelation 17-18.

Notice that it’s a measuring basket. The King James version says it’s an ephah with a talent of lead to cover it. This may indicate that the evil has its root in money and currency. That’s not too far of a stretch, the love of money being the root of all evil. As a prosperous society, we tend to trust in the dollar more than we trust in God. We trust in our 401k, our health insurance, our education, our job. If we have Social Security, do we need God? Prosperity can blind us to our need for God. We trust in our own labor and our own savings plan. When we trust in our prosperity, prosperity becomes our God because that’s where our heart is. When we trust in our own prosperity, we stop working on the temple like the people of Jerusalem did, and God’s work is delayed because we’re working on our stuff instead of His. No wonder God wants to put it all in a basket and ship it to Babylon.

Let’s look at the last vision we’re going to study today, the vision of the four chariots. Zechariah 6:1-8 –

I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.”

When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth.

Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.”

This a prophetic judgment on the rest of the world. The Lord God of Israel is also the Lord God of gentiles like us. The colors of these chariots match the colors of the four horsemen in Revelation 6, suggesting a similar purpose. The two mountains of bronze are often interpreted as Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives and symbolize God’s strength. The red horse is war, the black horse is death. The white horse is victory, and the dappled horse is disease and famine. God’s judgment in the last days rides swiftly and powerfully across the earth, and God’s Holy Spirit is only at rest when His perfect judgment is complete. That’s not good news for those of us in rebellion to His word; between the flying scroll, the basket of evil, and the four chariots of judgment, God’s perfect justice will eliminate evil. Including the evil that is in each one of us.

Our Good News – literally – is that God sent a perfect sacrifice for us. In Exodus 12 during the first Passover, God’s judgment came to Egypt, but if any household would place the blood of a perfect lamb over the door, the Lord God would pass over that household. Jesus came to be our perfect lamb and shed His blood for us. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect; it means that when God looks at us and we are clothed in the sacrifice of Jesus, God sees the blood and passes over us, too.

Zechariah 6 concludes with this Messianic prophecy, a foretelling of the coming of Jesus. Zechariah 6:9-13,

The word of the LORD came to me: “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’

To the people of Jerusalem, this imagery was profound. Joshua was the high priest, and the high priest didn’t wear crowns. The crown belonged to the king, and so Zerubbabel should get the crown. Levitical priests were never crowned as kings, and kings were never priests. In 2 Chronicles 26, King Uzziah tried to function as a priest and was stricken with leprosy. God’s law called for the priesthood to be separate from the government.

The vision of Joshua being crowned king foretells the coming of Jesus, whose name is the branch. Jesus would become both our high priest in the order of Melchizadek, as well as king of the Jews. Jesus will build our temple of the Lord, Jesus will bear the glory, and Jesus shall sit and rule on His throne, a priest on His throne, and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Then and only then will there be true peace and harmony.

So let’s recap what we’ve learned today –

  • We are to obey the Word of Our Lord, to do what He tells us to do. The rebuilding of the temple was delayed because the people found excuses and personal reasons and discouragement. When the people didn’t obey, the temple of the Lord wasn’t built. We, too, find excuses not to obey. The Lord uses us to accomplish His will, so it is important for us to obey, even when we don’t want to or when we don’t understand.
  • It’s too hard for us to obey. We are weak individuals. But relying on our own strength misses the point of what God expects from us. We are to rely on Him who gives us strength. God can move mountains, and with the Holy Spirit pouring through us like a golden oil, we can do His work to glorify Him and light up the world.
  • The flying scroll symbolizes God’s law that shows us our sins, and the sinful will be banished from God’s temple.
  • God is in control and more powerful than evil, able to contain it in a basket and put a lid on it. Eventually, God will destroy evil.
  • This applies to the entire world, and God’s judgment will ride out like chariots over the world. Through war, famine, death, and victory, all will bow their knee to Him.
  • God knows this is too hard for us, but he expects us to try. He has provided a sacrifice on our behalf, and crowned a Messiah, a priest to intercede for us and rule over men. If we accept the sacrifice, God will see that we are covered by the blood of Jesus, and His perfect judgment will pass over us.

May the good Lord use us for His purposes this week. God bless each one of us.

God's Word is Essential

Have y’all seen the stories on the news this week about Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda? For the last few years, Mr. Miranda has claimed to be Jesus himself. He says he had a vision in 1973, then after 3 marriages, 5 children, a heroin addiction and a couple of jail sentences for petty theft, in 2000 Mr. Miranda claimed to be Jesus himself. Mr. Miranda says there is no devil or sin because all of that was defeated 2000 years ago, prayer is a waste of time, and he teaches that his followers have a “freedom to indulge” because his followers are predestined for salvation no matter what they do on earth. He tells all of his followers that all churches and religion are heresy and they are to burn religious writings and attack local churches. He’s been banned in several countries. He’s in the news this week because he now claims that besides being Jesus, he’s also the anti-Christ. He is a “good” anti-Christ, though, because there is no such thing as evil. To mark this new revelation, Mr. Miranda now has a very prominent “666” tattooed on his forearm. Of course, his followers happily had their own “666” tattooed on their arms.

1 John 2:18: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” We know that this Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus because of scripture passages such as, well, the entire book of Revelation. It’s also clear from scripture that Mr. Miranda cannot be both Christ and the anti-Christ at the same time. If you ever watched “Star Trek” you’d know he’d explode and the universe would cease to exist.

Why are people misled by a charismatic preacher? It’s because they do not know who Jesus really is or what Jesus says. Colossians 2:4,8 says, “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Peter faced similar situations with false teachers. Peter and the apostles had been in direct communication with the Lord Jesus Christ and knew exactly what Jesus’ message was. The Word of God was shared through oral traditions and through the Holy Spirit, but the written word, the New Testament, had not yet been written. There was a vacuum of information, and men being what they are, unscrupulous or misinformed people stepped into the vacuum and began to spread problems of all kinds. Legalism was taught, authority of God was challenged, the core teachings of the gospel were challenged, and even the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus was challenged. The apostle Peter wrote this scripture specifically addressing the true theology of Christianity. He wanted Christians to know the truth, the freedom of living in Christ, and put to rest the false heresies that were being spread.

Let’s look at 2 Peter 1:12-15

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

Peter tells the early Christians that they already know the truth, but Peter will “always remind them.” Peter tells them he wants to “refresh your memory” for as long as he lives. Let’s see if Peter’s assessment holds true for us today – do we know the truth about Jesus? Are we firmly established with this truth and what Jesus wants for our lives? I think so. So why is it important to be reminded of these things and to have our memories refreshed?

Let me ask it in a more personal way. We are not perfect like Jesus, are we? We are tempted and fall into sin, whether it is lust of the eyes, hurt with the tongue, worshipping money and idols, sin of pride, something personal we struggle with as we persevere in our faith. When we sin, is at that moment that we stop believing in God? When we sin, is it at that moment that we stop believing in the bible? No, not at all. Of course we believe. What we have forgotten, though, is the truth of the Word. We forget that sin has consequences. We forget that Jesus paid an incredible price for that sin. When we fall into sin, we don’t become unbelievers. We become un-rememberers. We forget our need for grace. We forget God is watching every move and listening to every thought. Peter doesn’t want the believers of Asia Minor to forget. God doesn’t want us to forget.

When Peter says “as long as I am in this tent,” this of course, refers to Peter’s mortality. Our bodies are frail, they are impermanent, and they are imperfect. We have only so much time on this earth to do God’s will. When we are aware of our limited time here compared to our eternal destiny, it should give us some urgency to do God’s will while there is still time.

Peter knows that his time is short – Jesus hinted to Peter in the book of John (John 21:18) that someday Peter would also be crucified. “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Peter had an urgency to share the gospel, but we, too, have the same urgency.

Let’s read 2 Peter 1:16-18 –

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

Peter is telling us the truth; false teachers are not. Peter’s words have the strength of his conviction behind him, the truth of the Lord behind him, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. Myths about Roman gods were passed along from generation to generation that illustrated a particular Roman lesson, but they were myths. Peter reminds us that the story of Jesus is not a myth. Peter didn’t learn about it from others, it wasn’t hearsay or gossip passed along. Peter was there; he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles. Peter was there on the mountain when he heard God speaking from the heavens. And notice Peter says “we” – Peter, James and John were there on that mountain and were direct eyewitnesses to the transfiguration of Christ. God directly spoke from the heavens that Jesus is the son of God and that God is well pleased with Him.

It’s important to remember that Jesus appeared to thousands or people. When Jesus fed the 5000, how many people were there? Ok, that was a trick question. The point is that these 5000 people were still alive and it was very easy to check to see if the story was true. These were real events that had occurred during the last 20 or 30 years, during their lifetime.

Let’s say I told you that 20 or 30 years ago that Richard Nixon was a great war hero and had fought in Vietnam and because of his great leadership the Vietnam war was won? It would not be a credible story because there are people here in this room that know that isn’t true. In Peter’s day, Jesus was well known. He had appeared to thousands of people, taught thousands of people, and after he died and was resurrected appeared to hundreds of people. They were eyewitnesses. The apostles were so sure that Jesus was the messiah, the son of God, that they were willing to die for preaching Christ crucified. Not one of them recanted their story, even though they were martyred for preaching the gospel.

Peter knows without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus came as the Messiah, as the Christ, as the Son of God, that Jesus died and rose from the dead after 3 days and ascended into heaven. False teachers could not claim that, nor could they dispute Peter’s eyewitness account. What other miracles did Peter see first hand?

That’s why Peter knows he is speaking the truth. Through divine revelation, Peter heard the very words of Jesus. The faith of Christians is not based on clever stories. Christianity is based on real, historical events with multiple eyewitnesses. Can you imagine seeing the transfiguration and hearing God speak from the heavens? Can you imagine how confident Peter was in his faith after seeing that? God wants us to have that same confidence in Him. How does God do that?

Let’s read the rest of our verse for today, 2 Peter 1:19-21 –

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

I love that part – you will do well to pay attention to the Word of God; it’s like a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s Word gives us confidence; even though we are not eyewitnesses, we have the words of the eyewitnesses.

The bible is a unique book. There are 66 separate books written over 1500 years, by over 40 separate authors from all walks of life. Amos was a farmer. Luke was a doctor. Ezra and James were ministers. David and Solomon were kings. Daniel was a political prisoner. Peter was a fisherman. Mathew was a first century IRS agent. It was written in Europe, Asia, and Africa, from deserts, dungeons, palaces, and battlefields. It covers all sorts of controversial topics such as raising your kids, improving your marriage, managing emotions, handling money, breaking bad habits, and inheriting eternal life, all in unity. And yet the entire bible has one hero – the Messiah, Jesus Christ. One villain – Satan. One problem – sin. And one purpose – salvation. The entire plot of the bible can be summed up by –

Jesus is coming (the Old Testament)
Jesus is here (The 4 gospels)
Jesus is coming again (The New Testament epistles)

Peter reminds us here – he’s always reminding us, isn’t he? And then he’s reminding us that he’s reminding us. He reminds us that the Word of God is not written by man. Man may have been holding the pen and using his own unique personality, but the Word of God is provided by the Holy Spirit. Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. This is repeated in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Scripture is spoken by God, every word inspired by the Holy Spirit working through men. And it’s not just relaxing Sunday-morning reading, we are to use the Word. It teaches us, it rebukes us, it corrects us, and it trains us in righteousness.

If we take God’s word that the bible is indeed God’s word, how does that affect our relationship with Him? For one thing, if this is God’s Word, does God make mistakes? No, we know God is perfect and holy and infallible. Therefore, we take every word in the bible to be true, holy and infallible.

I heard a story about a pastor who was going to be preaching about Noah and the ark and the Great Flood. A couple of boys decided to play a prank on the pastor, and they snuck into the sanctuary and glued some of the pages of his bible together. Sunday morning, the pastor started reading from the bible and it came out a little different than he expected. He read, “And Noah took a wife, and she was” (here he struggles to turn the page) “450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall.” The pastor stood there stunned for a minute, and then said, “I have been reading this Bible for 30 years, and there are still some things that are hard for me to believe.”

Skeptics and atheists claim the bible is full of discrepancies and inaccuracies, but theologians have a scholarly rebuttal to each claim. Some scripture, a lot of scripture, may be difficult for us to understand, but what we have to recognize is that the problem is not with the bible. The bible is incredibly consistent, and when we come across what appears to be inconsistent scripture, we can recognize that the problem is with us. We have limited understanding. With study, prayer and meditation, we can understand more and more, and when we arrive in heaven, we will understand all of it. Right now, in our mortal life, we have a limited view of an unlimited God. Eventually, if we continue to seek him, the full meaning will be given to us. We can learn to doubt our doubts.

What do we do about scripture we do not understand? In Matthew 11:25, Jesus says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” The Pharisees knew the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. I believe God reveals himself to us slowly over the course of our life; just as He revealed himself to Israel over 3000 years. Scripture that is unclear to us one year becomes incredibly clear to us in later years. Jesus says that if we seek Him, we shall find Him. What that means to me is to implicitly trust that the bible is true even if I cannot fathom its full meaning.

If we accept the entire bible as complete true, what does the bible say about the bible? Besides being useful for teaching and rebuking, the word is relevant. Does anybody remember the scripture that is at the bottom of each class newsletter? Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The bible is not dead literature, it is living and active. It’s sharp and it cuts and exposes us to God. It convicts us and shows us our sin and how we fall short of His glory and how much we need our savior Jesus Christ.

There are many ways to ask the Lord for this sort of surgery, surgery that cuts the sin out of our lives. Try asking the Lord to reveal Himself to you. Read His word and apply it to your life. The problem, I think you’ll find, is not one of understanding so much as it is a problem of obedience. Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me; it’s the parts of the Bible that I do understand.” Many passages are easy to understand. The Ten Commandments, for instance, are very easy to understand. “Honor thy father and mother, especially on Mother’s Day.” If you want God to work within you, try committing a favorite passage to memory. Try reading your bible eagerly and accept it as God’s holy word and then submit yourself to what it says.

Let’s look at John 8:31-31 – To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To the non-believer, Jesus has but one command: “believe in me.” But if we are to grow in our faith, Jesus wants more from us. Jesus tells us to “hold to His teaching.” Where do we find His teaching? The very word of God, the bible. His teachings are here. Hold to His teaching, and we become His disciples, followers of Jesus. Hold to His teaching, then we will know the truth. Hold to His teaching, and we are set free from the bondage of sin.

An intellectual belief in God is not sufficient. The wisdom of man pales next to the foolishness of God. Heartfelt emotions are not sufficient – emotions can mislead us. Sincerity is not sufficient – the most sincere person can be most sincerely wrong. Sincerity does not equal truth, and sometimes religious leaders can be wrong. In Acts 17:11, it says, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” While the Bereans were excited that Paul was in their midst and preaching to them, they examined scripture for themselves to see if Paul was preaching the truth. That’s how we know that Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus the Christ. What he preaches conflicts with the Word of God. It’s misleading. It’s false.

I’d like to close with the words of another eyewitness to the life and words of Jesus Christ. From the book of John, chapter 1, verse 1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Let’s give a word of thanks to our Lord who has given us His holy Word.

Book of Judges

I don’t see how this passes for news. A Houston Chronicle reporter doesn’t like bible studies going on in the courthouse.

Just before 12:30 p.m. almost every Tuesday, Judge James Squier leaves his 312th Court and heads upstairs to the seventh floor of the Harris County Family Law Center.

There, in an associate judge’s chamber, he joins 15 or 20 other courthouse Christians — lawyers, bailiffs and clerks — for Bible study. The group spent about two years combing through the book of Matthew, and another two on Acts. Right now, they’re about a year into John.

“Isn’t that a problem?” I asked Squier recently. He knew I wasn’t talking about the study group’s less-than-blistering pace. I meant the very existence of courthouse Bible study. To me, Bible study sounds like “church,” and the Harris County courthouse sounds like “state.” Aren’t church and state supposed to stay separate?

Apparently it’s non-factual news. Other than media-driven misperception, there is no “separation of church and state.”

I don’t see the purpose of the article, either. Lisa Gray has a large megaphone in the Chronicle, and to print this as “news” is inadequate. It’s personal prejudice against Christians. She’s already well aware that it’s perfectly legal, she just doesn’t “like it”. Since when does the personal prejudice of a reporter get to be news? I don’t like eggplant, but that doesn’t seem to make the news.

I may not like it. I may not think it’s fair. But at the county courthouse, crawling through the New Testament a few verses a week could help you to the fast track.

Before she makes an accusation like “crawling through the New Testament a few verses a week could help you to the fast track” again, perhaps she ought to spend a few months reading the bible with the judge and see what really happens.

Review: On the Move

On the Move

Bono, the lead singer of U2, was asked to give an address at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006. Bono discussed his personal faith, the faith of nations, and the plight of the poor in Africa that are dying from AIDS. Based on this speech, “On the Move” was produced with images of the faces of those affected.

Bono’s speech was challenging, calling AIDS the “leprosy of our age;” at first criticizing churches for the initial reaction to this disease, then praising churches for taking the lead in this fight. Bono quotes liberally from Old and New Testaments (and once from the Koran); how poverty is mentioned 2100 times in the bible, and how all the charity in the world has hardly made a dent in the problem, but that if we truly believe these people are equals in the eyes of our God who made them, then justice cries out why that continent suffers so much more.

Instead of asking God to bless what we are doing in our relatively mundane lives, get involved in what God’s already doing. God has already blessed that.

Bono’s advocacy group DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) is a member of One, the Campaign to Make Poverty History. All royalties from this book go to the One campaign.

“The one thing, on which we can all agree, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. God is in the slums and in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. 6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.” —Bono

ON THE MOVE by Bono (W Publishing Group; Hardcover; April 3rd)
Thanks to AuthorsOnTheWeb.com for the evaluation copy of this book.

Once Saved, Always Saved

We’re going return to the New Testament for the next 3 months and work through 1st and 2nd Peter, written by the apostle Peter approximately 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In the 30 years since Peter denied Jesus three times, Peter has grown a lot. Within two years of writing 1st and 2nd Peter, Peter was martyred, proclaiming the glory of Christ till the very end.

I’d love to spend a lot more time discussing who Peter was, how he grew from a fisherman, and in Acts he was described as “unlearned and ignorant,” to the man who wrote these letters. Peter is a perfect illustration of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Peter was in Rome when Rome burned; Nero, who “fiddled while Rome burned,” blamed the fire on Christians and martyred both Peter and Paul during this time. So you can see how much history is wrapped up in Peter’s life, but we need to delve right into 1 Peter and see what this apostle has to say to us. So let’s get started and see what the Holy Spirit has to say through this man of Christ and perhaps have hope that we, too, may become this unlearned and ignorant. So take out your bibles and turn to 1st Peter and let’s dig in. 1 Peter 1:1-2 :

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

“Strangers in the world” is also sometimes translated as “temporary residents” or “aliens residing in a foreign land.” Believers in Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit inside, soon find that their moral values are different from the world. We become new creations that don’t seem to fit with the old world anymore. We turn from partying to service, we turn from selfish behavior to loving our neighbor. We become strangers in the world. Peter defines a whole bunch of characteristics of Christians in a single sentence –

  • God’s elect, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. God knows all, including knowing who will choose Him. It doesn’t say God makes us choose Him, we have the gift of free will He gave us. But God knows all.
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. When we accept Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who turbocharges our conscience and begins the lifelong process of sanctification.
  • Obedience to Jesus Christ. To love our Lord, we seek to find His will in our lives.
  • Sprinkling of His blood. This is a also a gift given to us, and nothing we did to earn it. Christ died for us.
  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Two more gifts given to Christians; as we allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, God’s grace and the peace from Christ lives in us. In abundance, too.

Wow. No wonder we’re going to go through the books of Peter slowly. That’s five descriptions of Christians and we’re not out of the first paragraph yet, and each description we could devote a complete study. Not today, though, we’re going to study 1 Peter 1:3-9 instead. I’d like to read this together as a class, and to make sure we’re all reading the same version, I’ve provided a handout with these verses:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter tells us so much here, about how to have inexpressible and glorious joy, how our faith is protected by God’s power, how we suffer so that our faith may be proved genuine. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once saved, always saved?” I confess that before I started studying this week, I had some doubts about that. No more, no more doubts. And absolutely knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to mess that up brings me this peace and inexpressible and glorious joy. The salvation of my soul is secure, kept in heaven for me and shielded by God’s power. There’s a lot of comfort in that. Peter tells us that through Jesus we have come into an inheritance that can never, spoil or fade, that this inheritance is kept in heaven and protected by the all powerful God.

Are you pretty sure you’re going to heaven? Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s a good chance you’re going to heaven? Or do you absolutely know, without a doubt, 100% guarantee, that you’re going to heaven? God wants you to know and be absolutely confident, because there is joy and peace in this knowledge. Let’s see if there’s any other scripture that talks about this confidence.

1 John 5:13:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life.

It doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life. So that we may *know* we have eternal life. It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven. It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice. Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do. It’s not based on you, never was. It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

John 5:24, Jesus says,

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses certain Greek tenses of verbs here to make His point. When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense. Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”. Jesus says believers have it! And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life. We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die. We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned. Past, present and future.

John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.” John 6:47, “I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.” It’s an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish. What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord? Well, here’s the fine print of the contract.

  • Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more. Poof, it’s as if they never happened. With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.
  • Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed. They *are* inscribed.
  • Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now. No condemnation. Freedom.
  • Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.
  • Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs. We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.
  • Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?
  • Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped. Seems like every translation I read used a different word here. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.
  • John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we becomes His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.
  • Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

This salvation we already have. This eternal life we already have. Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed. Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice. Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! I rejoice because I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already. I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again. Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed. This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation,

  • somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore,
  • change us from Christ’s sheep into a toad,
  • remove the brand He sealed onto us,
  • snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us,
  • cancel God’s adoption papers and write us out of the will,
  • evict the Holy Spirit out of His home in our heart and tell him to find someplace else to live,
  • dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up,
  • remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more,
  • and make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

So what about all those difficult questions about “Once saved, always saved?” What if I claim to be a Christian, but don’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? I party and drink and do drugs and sleep around and so forth – Am I still going to heaven? And what if I say I’m a Christian and I know I’m going to heaven, does that mean I can do anything I want? Lie cheat and steal, take candy from babies or be a serial killer? Am I still going to heaven? How about if I say I’m Christian, but then I curse God to His face, turn my back on Jesus and says I want nothing do with those uptight religious freaks anymore? Am I still going to heaven? And what about when I hurt or when I’m depressed and I just don’t feel like getting up and going to church anymore? Am I still going to heaven?

Great questions. I hope somebody here can answer them, I ran out of time studying.

No seriously, they are great questions, and the answers are in this same Good Book.

Number 1. What if somebody claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? Partying and drinking and so forth? I think it’s important to remember that eternal salvation is granted when you confess with all your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord. God does the rest. If we think our actions before God are better than somebody else’s actions, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus did for us. Romans 3:20 says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” No one, no matter how good we try to be, is good enough for God. Any righteousness we have comes not from ourselves but from accepting the blood covering of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” It has nothing to do with what we do. We don’t gain eternal life because of our good performance, and we don’t lose eternal life because of our bad performance. It’s Jesus plus nothing; it’s a gift. The church of Galatia thought the same thing, and Paul gave them a dressing down. In Galatians 3 Paul writes, “You foolish Galatians! […] After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” 2 Timothy 2:13 Paul says, “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful.” Getting into heaven has nothing to do with our human performance and everything to do with God’s grace. We don’t sing Amazing Human Performance in worship for a reason, we sing Amazing Grace. So if somebody has truly accepted Jesus Christ but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian life, they still have an invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party.

Number 2. If our salvation is secure, does that mean we can do whatever we want? If I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, why does it matter what I do? Why not lie, cheat and steal? Why not cheat on my spouse? Why not party like it’s 1999? I’m going to heaven! Well, there’s a serious problem with this. You may have that invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party and you are guaranteed entry, but what you do in this life has everything to do with what kind of reception you’ll get when you get there. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames

.

The foundation is Christ, and with our mortal lives we build on that foundation. We can build on it with long lasting stuff – obedience, servant hood, prayer, humility, or we can build on it with disobedience, arrogance, and selfishness. The choice is up to us. But there will come a day of Judgement where we stand before Christ, and all our earthly deeds will be exposed for what they are. Everything bad or worthless will be burned away, and if there’s anything left, there’s a reward. What kind of reward? I don’t know – I’m guessing something made of chocolate. All I know if there’s a line forming to collect a reward from the almighty God, I want to be in that line. What if your building is all gone? Well, you don’t get any chocolate, but you yourself will be saved. You’re not in heaven because of the building, you’re in heaven because of the foundation.

Another problem with living a sinful, selfish life, the Holy Spirit is inside doing a number on our conscience. We will feel guilty. Things we could get away with before accepting Christ, we feel bad when we do them now. David writes in Psalm 32 that when he kept silent about his sins, not confessing, not repenting, his bones wasted away and he groaned all day long. When we accept Christ as our savior, we become more focused on pleasing God.

Number 3. What if somebody turns their back on Jesus, renounces God, becomes an atheist. Are they still going to heaven? Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teen who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at 17 took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching to “laugh at the poor deluded Methodists.” Two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity and became Unitarian who do not believe Jesus was the only Son of the Father. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” Robert Robinson never did return to Christianity, and died denying the deity of Christ.

So what happened? We can’t know for sure, can we, because we can’t ever know Robert Robinson’s heart. But we do know this – if he ever truly trusted Christ, then yes, Robert Robinson is in heaven. Even if we are faithless, God is faithful. In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus tells us what happens to people like this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

In order to produce fruit, you have to be connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not connected, the best you can produce is leaves, and Jesus says if you’re not connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit, the sap of the church of a body of believers, you wither. You become bitter and angry. I’ve never met a person who has accepted Christ and then turned his back on him that was a joy to be around. They’re hurtful, mean, selfish people. But when you’re connected to the sap, you produce fruit. So when you meet a person like this, either they never truly gave their heart to Jesus, or they did give their heart, but through circumstance, weakness, persecution, suffering, whatever, they turned their back on Jesus. It’s not for us to determine, but the Lord knows their heart, and if they truly gave their heart, they’re in heaven. But not in the chocolate line, they’re in the … carob line.

Number 4. What if I just don’t feel saved? What if I don’t feel connected to the Holy Spirit, or connected to the church. Am I still going to heaven? One of Satan’s tricks in our materialistic secular humanistic society is the “do what feels good” philosophy. Feel bad about debt? Go shopping until you feel good. Feel bad about weight? Eat until you feel better. Don’t like your spouse? Get a divorce. And you look at our society and see what happens to us when we let our feelings determine our direction. When our feelings are at the wheel, we don’t have any idea what direction we’re headed.

I know exactly first hand what happens when you let feelings rule. I left my wife because of feelings and my feelings drove me right off a cliff. But you know what? Christ caught me. Now instead of trying to get happy and going in whatever direction I wanted to, I let Christ take the wheel and let Him determine the direction, and I ended up far happier than when I was trying to be happy. Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Feelings aren’t supposed to be driving your around; feelings are supposed to be in the passenger seat.

So do your feelings determine whether you’re going to heaven? Does John 3:16 read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” as long as he feels like it? John 5:24 says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” How do your feelings change that? John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Unless, of course, they’re unhappy? Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Where do feelings come into play? Your feelings are something you do, and nothing you do will gain your salvation. I think we try to make this complicated, but it’s almost too simple to believe. God gives us the gift of salvation, and we say “thanks.” That’s it, and nothing we do or feel or say will change that. No performance evaluation, no report card. Just grace. Your destiny is already safe, already secure, you are already an eternal being. When you’re not afraid to die, then you’re not afraid to live.

So you don’t have to get up every week and walk down the aisle every single week and give your life to Christ, Meredith. You already belong to him and nothing, not death nor life, not angels nor demons, not the present nor the future, nor any powers, not height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to change that one teeny bit. Your destiny is safe. And that’s why Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Once Saved, Always Saved? It really is that simple. Don’t complicate it with man-made judgments and opinions. Salvation is a gift through Jesus that is eternally secure. To receive it, all we have to do is ask. And all we have to do to keep it is… nothing.

* due credit goes to Lon Solomon of the McLean Bible Church and his sermon series on Bible bootcamp for the ideas and scripture references behind the “fine print of the contract” above.